THE ASCENSION, large historiated initial 'V' on a leaf from an ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT GRADUAL ON VELLUM [Venice or the Veneto, c.1410-20] 562 x 400mm (leaf); 180 x 170mm (initial). The initial extending into an elaborate foliate border inhabited by a large blue and white bird, a black eagle, an angel, an old man's head, a second angel playing a portative organ, St Augustine with book and crozier, a rabbit and St Catherine of Alexandria (some marginal cropping, slight fading of text and musical notation). The initial opens the introit for the Ascension, 'Viri galilei quid admiramini aspicientes in celum'. AN EXQUISITE EXAMPLE OF THE MOST REFINED, ACCOMPLISHED WORK OF THE VENETIAN ILLUMINATOR CRISTOFORO CORTESE (fl. 1399-before 1445). The present leaf, with its lively, animated scenes and its sparkling borders -- including the same music-making angel -- is stylistically comparable to Cortese's choirbook initial with the Death of St Francis in the MusAe Marmottan in Paris (no 68), one of only three works signed by the artist (another is a Virgin and Child in La Spezia, Museo Civico Amedeo Lia, inv. 543). Cortese undertook many commissions for the scuole and lay confraternities of Venice and contributed to many choirbooks throughout the Veneto; some of his finest work being in a Gradual commissioned for S. Mattia a Murano (Milan, Bib. Nazionale Braidense, MS AB XVII.28). The exuberant, rich border decoration of the present leaf reveals the influence on Cortese of the style of the Novella Master and indicates an early stage in his career: Illuminated Manuscripts in Cambridge, eds N. Morgan, S. Panayatova and S. Reynolds, II, vol.1, 2011, nos 53, 54 and 60. The present leaf is possibly from the same Gradual as Marlay cutting It.20, The Entry into Jerusalem, in the Fitzwilliam Museum.